Ground being prepared for legal challenge of Bill

‘Similar provisions have hit hurdles elsewhere in the country’

December 24, 2021 01:47 am | Updated 01:47 am IST - Bengaluru

Multiple organisations and activists are preparing to challenge the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021, popularly called the anti-conversion Bill, in the High Court, after it is passed by the legislature and notified.

Gujarat High Court, in August 2021, stayed parts of the Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2021, that dealt with inter-faith marriages. Similar provisions are part of the Bill in Karnataka, which would be raised by those who view this Bill as a violation of the Indian Constitution.

Human rights advocate B.T. Venkatesh of Reach Law, who plans to challenge the legislation, said, “The Bill is a clear violation of Articles 15, 19, and 25 of the Constitution which provide for equality and the right to freedom of expression and religion. There are already provisions in the Indian Penal Code that deal with fraud, threatening with divine displeasure, and allurement and there is no need to bring another law.”

Another senior advocate, C.S. Dwarakanath, former chairperson of the Karnataka Permanent Backward Classes Commission, said the Bill says post conversion the person would cease to get benefits from the Government that he/she was getting prior to the conversion, which runs contrary to the Backward Classes list in the State. “In Category I of the Backward Classes list, ‘Dalits converted to Christianity’ is listed as the 95th community eligible for benefits under the category with 4% reservation,” he pointed out.

Section 8 of the Bill requires the person converting and the converter to give a 30 day advance notice to the district magistrate which will be notified, calling for objections. “This provision is unconstitutional, in violation of the right to privacy. In a similar case, the Himachal Pradesh High Court held that the notice requirement violated the freedom of conscience and privacy of an individual, and articulated that there must be a compelling state interest in interfering with this right,” said All-India Lawyers’ Association for Justice in a statement.

Burden of proof

Section 12 of the Bill, reverses the burden of proof as to whether the religious conversion is unlawful per the Bill, on the accused.

“A foundational tenet of criminal jurisprudence is that a person is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. The Supreme Court has time and again stated that the casting of burden of proof on the accused cannot be allowed when the presumption is raised in relation to the proof of negative facts,” AILAJ said in the statement.

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